I am a solo cruiser, widowed, 66 years old, retired, Platinum cruiser with Carnival. My late wife and I took many cruises together, but this was my first time cruising solo.
Travel To Port of Embarkation & Hotel Info
I live in SW Florida, so it’s an easy drive to Florida’s port cities. I drove over to Miami (about a 3-hour trip) the afternoon prior to cruise day to just be in position and enjoy a relaxing evening. I stayed at the Candlewood Suites just west of the Miami International Airport. I used to live in Miami so I know the area, and of course having a car made it much easier and much less expensive to stay some distance away from the port area hotels. I did drive down to the Bayside Marina and enjoyed a waterside dinner at Lombardi’s Restaurant, where I enjoyed a nice meal overlooking the port area.
On embarkation day, I arrived at the port around 10am, preferring to get there early. I dropped off my luggage, parked the car ($20 a day) and walked the short distance back to the terminal. I was escorted to the VIP lounge where check-in was completed quickly and easily and we were the first group to board. I was on the ship and enjoying a drink at the lobby bar by around 10:40am.
My Carnival PVP had sent me an email about a week and a half prior to the cruise, noting some excellent fare reductions. After some thought about it all, I booked the cruise only a week out, and for the first time I booked an inside guarantee, Category 4a. It was two days before embarkation before I received my cabin assignment. On previous cruises I had always had either an ocean view or a balcony cabin, however the great fare on this cruise for an inside cabin was simply too good to resist. Upon receiving my cabin assignment however, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had been upgraded to a Category 4F cabin on the Empress Deck. It was a great location, very close to the lobby area and shops, excursion desk and guest services, and equally close to Emile’s lounge, breakfast, lunch, coffee, etc. And I found that I didn’t mind the inside cabin at all, because I just didn’t spend that much time in the cabin.
After boarding and enjoying lunch, there was a two hour window where you could speak to the Maitre’d about table assignments for the evening meal. I had been assigned to the Golden Olympian Dining Room for the late seating, and had been assigned to a table with two couples, so I asked if I could be moved to a larger table with other "solo" cruisers. I was reassigned to the Silver Olympian Dining Room and seated at a larger table with 5 other solo cruisers. This turned out to be a good move.
Our waiter was “Elaine” and she was superb. She took care of us in fine fashion for the entire week. And I must say that the quality of food and the variety of dishes available on each night’s menu was excellent. Every meal seemed like a gourmet dinner. I have cruised with Carnival many times in years past, however the quality of food on this cruise seemed greatly improved over previous cruises.
Although I love the buffet option for breakfast, especially the fresh eggs or omelets cooked to order, I opted for the dining room for breakfast - I think on four out of seven mornings, just so I could meet other people. Of course in the dining room for lunch, you are seated at the large tables as you come in, with strangers. But I thought it was the perfect opportunity to "get out there." On the first morning I was seated with three older folks (older than me even!) - one of the guys was a cook/baker on an aircraft carrier in World War II. His friend was a radar technician on a destroyer escort during that same time, both ex-Navy vets. They were fascinating to talk to. One morning I met some women from the New England area who were cruising for the first time, another who sat across from me was 72 years old, had been trying to get her husband to cruise for years, and she finally gave up on him and here she was without him!
One morning I met a young couple who live in Colorado - as it turns out right around the corner from where my wife and I used to live, we even talked about where the grocery store was and the Home Depot. What a small world! On a subsequent morning I met another younger couple - discovered they were fellow Cruise Critics! And also two older folks from the Philly area & a 1st time cruiser from Luxembourg, who after only two days on the ship, informed us that he wouldn’t be taking another cruise. He said he liked to walk a lot and the ship was too confining for him. Oh well, to each his own.
The two couples that morning – the younger ones from Indiana and the older ones from the Philly area might as well have been from Venus & Mars regarding their attitudes. The older woman made a point to tell us how much she had complained about things on every cruise she had taken and how she never had enough room to put all her complaints on the comment card. Hello….the other couple and I just exchanged winks…all the while secretly planning to meet later in Grand Cayman at Margaritaville. Yes! Oh, well, in spite of the negative vibes that tried to infect our breakfast conversation, the young couple from Indiana and I were laughing and hee-hawing – they seem to exemplify my own attitude about being aboard ship – essentially, “there ain’t no such thing as a ‘bad cruise!’”
I did dine at Harry’s Steakhouse on the last night of the cruise with some of dinner companions. I must say I was a bit disappointed with this meal. I ordered Beef Carpaccio as an appetizer and it was very unappetizing. It is composed of thinly-shaved beef, shaved parmesan cheese and greens, usually Arugula or something similar. The beef was extremely thin, very little of it, and was sort of pasted to the plate by the sauce. It seemed chintzy. For the main course I opted for surf & turf – in short the beef was excellent, tender, cooked just perfectly and very tasty. The lobster, on the other hand, was severely overcooked and had the consistency of vulcanized rubber. It was just awful.
I have dined at Scarlett’s on the Valor and the food was excellent. I think this experience on the Liberty at Harry’s was largely due to the particular dishes I ordered. When I return to the Liberty in September, I will probably dine here again, but I certainly won’t order the lobster. There are too many other wonderful things on the menu to choose from, like Filet Mignon, or Chilean Sea Bass. So I’ll give them another try. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a bad cruise, so this one minor circumstance is not an issue for me.
The Liberty is fourth in line of five ships in the Conquest class. Having previously sailed on the Valor, which is similar in architecture and layout, it was easy to find my way around. One of my favorite hangouts was the “Paparazzi” martini bar, and Tommy the bartender from Singapore. My dinner gang would often show up there for pre-dinner cocktails and Tommy always provided us with friendly and excellent service. My other favorite watering hole was the Flowers Lobby bar, and Lucia, bartender from the Ukraine, always made my visits there enjoyable. Emile’s Grand Buffet was a virtual kaleidoscope of variety, every kind of food you could imagine. There was the Mongolian Grill, open each day for lunch, a very popular spot. Three different serving lines in addition to the Pizzeria (open 24 hours), Hamburger Grill, Ice Cream Machine, Deli, Burrito bar, and also Fish & Chips. If that wasn’t enough, there was also room service, and out on the Lido Deck around the midships pool, there were always hot dogs and hamburgers available.
I had late seating, 8:15pm in the Silver Olympian Dining Room and it was absolutely grand, with Maitre’d Omur Oflaz (or as he calls himself, “Omar from Oklahoma) always coming around from table to table and ensuring that we were all having a good dining experience.
The Valor is a big ship and I was told there were 3500 passengers on board this cruise. Nonetheless, I could always find a secluded spot to read or sit quietly, or I could be around people as was my choice. The midship lido deck area around the Tivoli Pool was where the action was. Live music most of the time, it is mostly an open area with tiers of deck chairs, and some shade on the sides as well. One side of this area is designated as a smoking area. The aft pool area, the Versailles Pool, was my favorite place to hangout. An adults only area, non-smoking, a huge roof that closes if it rains, two hot tubs, the bar, ice cream machine, hamburger grill, pizzeria, all within a few short steps. And this area is all non-smoking as well.
Many places to relax along the Promenade on Deck 5, and also Deck 3 on either side of the lobby was another quiet place to simply sit and read or enjoy the ocean view.
I did attend two of the late night adult entertainment events. One was a stand-up comedian, and the other was a magician who had volunteers who were willing to be “hypnotized” – I can tell you it was extraordinarily hilarious! Most of the entertainment events took place in the Victoria Palace, great seating no matter where you were, although there were a few vertical columns that you didn’t want to sit behind. I also went to the show with “The Village Idiots” – talented and funny jugglers & comedians. These guys were very talented and funny; don’t miss them if you have the opportunity.
Like any cruise, there was a variety of activities each day depending on your likes and dislikes. It’s a cruise so you can be as busy as you want, or simply opt to do nothing. One afternoon I attended the “The Game of Love” with cruise director “Noonan.” As you might expect, patterned after the infamous Newlywed Game, it was another of those wonderfully funny events.
I also attended a Wine tasting…with Sommelier Ivanna from the Ukraine – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, with a little food tray of various foods to pair with wine. Excellent & informative presentation, very enjoyable.
This was my 11th cruise on Carnival and I would say it was the best yet. Carnival’s waiters and staff are extraordinarily friendly and this cruse was exceptional in that regard. From the cabin steward (Raul) to the table waiter (Elaine) the bartenders, (Tommy, Caroline, Lucia, Nancy, many others too) everyone was pleasant and helpful and service was nothing less than first-class.
Port & Shore Excursions
This particular cruise stopped at Cozumel, Grand Cayman & Ocho Rios, and having visited all of them on previous occasions, I did not opt for any organized excursions, but instead just walked around, snapped some photos, talked to people, did some shopping, and of course had an obligatory cool drink or two at a thatched-roof bar before returning to the ship. One often overlooked fact is that the port days are many times the best occasion to enjoy the ship. Definitely less crowded.
I will make one comment about Ocho Rios. If I end up on a cruise there again I will probably not get off the ship. On this particular visit I opted to walk to the downtown area, you know, just smelling the flowers and snapping a few photos. But the road was lined with scads of persistent scam artists trying to sell me everything under the sun. In the first fifteen minutes after I left the ship, I was offered drugs, sex, Cuban cigars, pornography, hair-braiding, tours, you name it they were trying to sell it. They were very pushy and insistent and after a while I just got tired of it. Some of them even got angry when I refused their services, and wanted to get into an argument about why I was depriving them of income because I didn’t want anything they had to offer. None of them stepped over the line as it were, I never felt unsafe or threatened, but it made for a very unpleasant visit. They simply don’t like to take no for an answer. Two of my dinner companions opted for a tour with one of these scam artists and along with about 30 other passengers, were literally taken for a ride. They took everyone’s money, drove around for about 30 minutes and then dropped them back at the port, without taking them to any of the promised locations, and when there were complaints, refused to give them their money back.. Well, my answer to all of this is that Ocho Rios is simply off my list from now on.
I would say mostly painless, and well-organized. I’ve done it all before, left my luggage out overnight, opted for Concierge Club baggage handling and of course the self-assist walk-off method. This time I opted for self-assist (you have to have one hand free), and after enjoying a leisurely breakfast, was off the ship by around 8 am. A short walk to the parking garage across from the terminal and I was on my way. Over the years Carnival has vastly improved their disembarkation operation.
I did note some significant changes from previous cruises. Carnival now practices “Social Distance Sanitation” – in that crew members have been instructed not to shake hands with passengers. Sounds like a reasonable approach to cut down on the possibility of passing around something unwanted, but in reality I found that many of the crew were still willing to shake your hand.
Another significant change – on the dining tables there was no butter – only some kind of yellowy artificial plastic-looking substance that no one could actually identify…but real butter is available if you ask for it, and those little butter packets were also available on the breakfast buffet. When I had breakfast in the dining room in the mornings, I always asked for real butter, and only once did I meet a little resistance, but I persevered until it finally showed up. I don’t about anyone else, but I don’t like drinking stuff that comes out of machines, or eating stuff that I don’t know what it is.
Another change - no more free movies in the cabins, pay per view only @ $8.99 a pop. But there were free movies each night on Lido deck on the big screen.
As a solo cruiser, the morning breakfasts turned out to be even more of an adventure into the unknown than the evening meal, where at least we got to know each other a bit. I think forcing myself to mingle turned out to be key points in my solo adventure. At first I was very wary of how things would go, I mean being on a ship with nearly 5000 people can be a little intimidating if you are by yourself. But meeting my dinner companions was very key. I only saw them briefly or occasionally during the day, but everyone always showed up for dinner, and every night was like having dinner with your extended family. We danced and joked with the waiters and assistants, took tons of photos, and just had the greatest time. Since the cruise we have all stayed in touch by email.
During the latter part of the week I would often find a secluded spot somewhere and read. I love to read at sea, the ocean as a backdrop is always so inspiring to me. I went through nearly three books during the week. Sometimes I would have lunch alone with my book, and I discovered I was okay with that too, that I found a balance of being with people and around people sometimes, but also cherishing those moments alone as well. In any case, I came away from the cruise with a very positive remembrance about it all and I will not be hesitant to do it again as a solo.
In spite of a few minor irritants, this was perhaps one of the best cruises I have taken. The Liberty is a grand ship and offers a tremendous cruise experience. I remain a committed Carnival cruiser, and now having broken the “solo” barrier I can’t wait to do it again. I already have two more cruises booked this year on Carnival, a large family cruise in September aboard the Liberty again, and another solo cruise in October on the Legend.