Grab something to drink and put your feet up—this is going to be a long one!
Who we are: Party of 9. My husband and I, who were celebrating our 25th anniversary, and our three kids, ( 21-year old daughter, 17-year old son and 14-year old daughter). Also joining us were my parents, my sister and my brother in law.
Pre-cruise. We flew into Miami the day before and stayed at the LaQuinta Airport East. We paid $67.50 a night and it was definitely worth it. It was close to the airport, clean, and had a free shuttle to the port the next morning. You just had to sign up for it when you checked in. We had a choice of 10:00 a.m. 10:45 a.m.., or 11:30 a.m. We signed up for the first one at 10:00 a.m since we like to be on the ship as early as possible.
Since we got in really early on Friday morning, we rented a couple of cars through Hertz for the day so we weren't stuck at the hotel. First we had lunch at this fantastic little restaurant called Catch of the Day. It was recommended to us by a cab driver that we met hanging out in the LaQuinta lobby. Excellent food, service and very reasonable! After that, we drove over to South Beach and hung out there for awhile, then came back and had dinner at the Bennigan's which is next door to the hotel. It was old, smelly and the food was not good. None of which was a real tragedy, so we didn't let it bother us too much. We figured we were going to eat enough on the cruise to make up for it.
Day One: All Aboard!
On Saturday morning we arrived in the lobby, luggage in tow to get on the shuttle to the port. While sitting there we met several other people who would also be joining us on the Liberty. Everyone was in a festive mood and ready to go. The plan was for my husband and my father to take the rental cars back, then they would catch the free Hertz shuttle to the port. The rest of us got on the hotel shuttle at 10:00 as planned and met them there. It worked out perfectly. One thing that did surprise me was that we did not handle our luggage at all. The hotel shuttle driver took it off the bus and handed it right to the port authority guys. The port authority guy made sure to tell us that we "take care of him right there before we leave". Not a problem big guy, we had already planned on it.
Once we got inside the terminal there were no lines at all. We walked right up to the kiosk, swiped our passport, got our sail and sign card, filled out a questionnaire about whether anyone had flu-like symptoms and was then given a zone number. They told us to wait until the number was called, then we could board. We probably waited about 30 minutes or so (until about 11:00) before our number was called and we boarded.
First impressions of the ship: We have been on many cruises, and several different cruise lines, but I have to say, the Liberty's lobby is probably the most impressive. It was not gaudy at all, and the color changing chandeliers were beautiful. Every crew member greeted us with a smile too. I was concerned about how my parents were going to like it because they usually cruise Holland America and such, but they were also impressed. In fact they thought it was far prettier than the Eurodam which they had just recently cruised on. The ship is very clean, you were always seeing crew members polishing and vacuuming something. So far, so good..
Incidentally, this was also the smoothest sailing we have ever had. It was very rare that you felt the ship move at all. You actually had to look out at the water at times to see if you were really moving. It was a very comfortable sailing the entire week. Perfect weather, sunny and warm every day. I wanted to call up my friend and gloat because she said she would NEVER sail the Caribbean during hurricane season. And yet, ironically, she is currently sailing the Mexican Riviera where there is now a hurricane. I resisted the temptation to call her up and gloat, mostly because I am too cheap for a ship to shore call. Gloating can always wait..
Lunchtime. We were pretty much "herded" towards the Lido deck at that point. Since we were told you couldn't get into your cabin until 1:30, there wasn't anywhere else to go anyway. Since we were one of the first groups on, there were no lines anywhere. Having read the Cruise Critic boards diligently, I remembered the advice that we should try the Mongolian Stir Fry right away because the lines would get long the rest of the week. We got in line and within 5 minutes had a steaming bowl of stir fry. It was great! I tried the Mongolian BBQ sauce which was the middle one as far as spicy goes. Others in our party tried the Szechuan and the Black Bean sauces. Everyone enjoyed it immensely. The meat choices on that day were chicken, beef and shrimp. Later in the week we also saw calamari as a choice however.
After lunch we decided to explore the ship and get some pictures before it got too crowded. We went to deck 5, which was the Promenade deck, and took pictures of all the lounges and other public areas. They were all beautiful and unique in their own way. This is also where we saw the Jardin Cafe which was the coffee//pastry bar. I can honestly say I have NEVER seen a two-story cheesecake before! It was two huge cheesecakes, stacked on top of each other so that when you ordered a slice, it was about 8 inches tall! The same with the chocolate cake and carrot cake. There were also some great looking chocolate-covered strawberries that tempted us. Once we picked our tongues up off the floor, we moved on, swearing that we WOULD be back to try those desserts at some point. They were very reasonably priced by the way, most were $2.25..
The Cabin. We opted for inside cabins on the Empress deck, for a couple of reasons. One of course, was money. With 9 of us going you had to conserve somewhere. Also, we needed triple cabins and we wanted a deck where there were nothing but cabins above and below us, so cabins 7350, 7386 and 7394 fit the bill nicely. At around 1:45 we decided to go check out the cabins. My parents insisted that we go to our (me, my husband, and my older daughter's) cabin first. Not thinking anything of it, I opened the door and was surprised to see that they had had the cabin decorated by Carnival for our anniversary. Red mylar streamers and hearts were hanging everywhere, a huge Happy Anniversary banner was strung across the back wall, and a centerpiece was on top of the mini fridge. It was very cute and very thoughtful, and very much appreciated.
The cabin itself was comfortable and had lots of storage. There were 3 closets, one of which was all shelves. The bathroom was a good size, and once we got the hang of the shower, we managed to NOT flood the floor after the first day. Our luggage had not yet arrived, but we weren't too surprised. Butch the cruise director made an announcement that the ship was full and they had approximately 18,000 pieces of luggage to distribute. He said they would be distributing it until well into the evening. Ours arrived sometime while we were at dinner (6:00 seating). Not a big deal since they said the dining room was "come as you are" the first night.
Muster Drill. Not a big deal at all. You did not have to bring the life jackets, you just showed up on the Atlantic deck in your assigned area and watched a brief demonstration on how to use the life jackets. It was over fairly quickly, and on with our day.
Sail Away. As always, sailing out of Miami is beautiful. There was a very festive atmosphere, and the entertainment staff were teaching line dances on the Lido deck. Drinks of the Day were flowing, of course. Did you expect anything less?
Dinnertime.. We were assigned early seating in the Silver Olympian dining room. On previous cruises we usually found that.we had a crappy table by the kitchen door, or were shoved into a corner somewhere. We had no reason to believe that this time would be any different. Imagine our surprise when we walked in the first night and found our table. It was almost as far aft as you can get, right alongside a huge window! Excellent table and excellent view of the sunsets every night! We could not have had a better table if we chose it ourselves.
Later that night... We opted to attend the Welcome Aboard show with the cruise director Butch. He is a high energy, string bean of a guy who did not bother us nearly as much as some Cruise Critic members said he would. We found him to be enthusiastic and genuinely nice, (we met him later in the cruise). He definitely seems to love his job. The Welcome Aboard show was semi-informative, so we were glad we went.
Day 2-- Half Moon Cay
All the reports of this island seemed way too good to be true. I went into it with a "wait and see" attitude. Well, I waited, and I saw. This island was truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been! The sand was white and powdery, the water was crystal clear and a perfect temperature, and the facilities were clean. We thoroughly enjoyed our day here, even without booking an excursion. We just laid on the lounge chairs, swam and ate the barbecue lunch that was served. It was pretty close to a perfect day. It also helped that we were the only ship in port so it wasn't too crowded. It also didn't hurt that the weather was perfect. I look forward to going back there again someday. One thing that we could not quite figure out though, is how there are NO fish, rocks, or ANYTHING at all in the water. Nothing but sand and water. You would think you would at least see a stray fish or two.
This night was the first elegant night on board. After reading many, many, MANY posts about inappropriate dress in the dining room, my expectations were pretty low. I was shocked to see NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON in jeans, shorts or a wife beater in the dining room. There may have been a few underdressed people somewhere, but none near us. The overwhelming majority of women had on cocktail dresses, several had on long gowns, and most men wore if not a suit, then at least a shirt and tie. In the few tables surrounding us there were also a bunch of tuxedos. I was, quite frankly, blown away with how nice everyone looked. The promenade deck was packed all night with people lined up to take formal pictures with all of the various backgrounds that were offered. The people watching was excellent this night!
Day 3—Day at Sea.
We got up around 8:00 and decided to try the MDR for breakfast. It was pretty much the same stuff from the buffet just being served to you. We did not find it to be any fresher, and actually, the buffet had more choices. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast then headed for the pool.
Let's just say, the chair hogs were alive and well. At the main pool there wasn't a chair to be found that didn't have a stray flip flop, beach towel, book, or bottle of sunblock on it. It was not that important to me to be within spitting distance of the pool, so we went up a deck or two and found some lounge chairs that were just fine. The pools were pretty crowded anyway so we didn't bother trying to swim.
The highlight of this day for me was the Master Mixologist contest, only because my daughter was a participant. She had filled out an application the day before and was one of 4 chosen for the contest. She had to come up with a new drink that was going to be judged by a panel of people, including the head bartender on the ship. The drink was being judged on taste, looks, clever name and then also on the personality of the entrant while making the drink. We didn't think her chances were too good because she was up against a guy who was a bartender, an older "cougar-like" woman who shed her cover up and wiggled her bikini-clad body for the entire ship to see on the big screen TV, and another older man who looked like he really knew what he was doing.
Despite the odds being stacked against her, my daughter won!! She got a hat that looks like the funnel, a Carnival Cocktail cookbook and 4 free drink coupons. Since she won, her drink was chosen the "Drink of the week" and was served in every bar and lounge the rest of the week. It was also mentioned every day in the Fun Times as being the drink of the week. It was kind of fun to see how many people around the ship actually ordered it during that week. We saw more people than we would have imagined. We even saw some people in the dining room ordering it at dinner.
She was not the only winner in the family that day, my son took home the coveted "Ship on a Stick" trophy for the air hockey contest, beating out, amongst others, his father which did not sit well with him!
Day 4-- St. Thomas
We opted to book a tour on our own with Sunny Liston. It was $30 per person which was roughly half of what Carnival charged for the same tour.
Sunny was about 25 minutes late collecting us because of a traffic jam. He is a very laid back guy and nothing seemed to bother him, including the fact that he was so late. However, he was agreeable to anything you wanted to do. He dropped us off in the heart of Charlotte Amalie for a few hours of shopping, and was very prompt at picking us up. From there he took us on a tour of the island. His website said the tour part was 1 ½ to 2 hours, but in reality it was only a little over an hour. It was fine though because we saw just about everything there was to see. He sings (loudly and badly) which greatly added to the fun! He also drives like a maniac down winding roads, so if anyone in your party gets carsick, this might not be the tour for you. Overall, everyone in our party liked it and had a great time. After the island tour he asked us which beach we wanted to be dropped off at. Everyone agreed on Sapphire Beach which I must say, is really beautiful. Our group, however, opted not to stay, we asked him to take us back to the ship to which he replied "no problem, anything you want, mon"..
Day 5-- San Juan, Puerto Rico.
My husband and kids signed up to do the Canopy zip lining tour through Carnival. They all agreed it was a lot of fun, but nowhere near as long as it was supposed to be. They were back on board at least an hour earlier than they were supposed to be. I'm not sure what happened there. The consensus was, it was a good time, but probably not worth the $125 a person they paid. My husband said it was worth probably $75 a person at best. My parents and I did our own walking tour around old San Juan, and did some shopping. It was pleasant, but probably not my favorite port. The thing that surprised me here was how long it took us to get back on board ship. The line was a mile long! We were supposed to be back on board by 3:00, and the line took about 45 minutes when we got in it at 2:00. I'm glad we didn't wait any longer before heading back to the ship. What did make the wait slightly more palatable was the free cocktail samples being passed out to us in the terminal. Good stuff!
This night was the past guest party from 5:15-6:00. It was actually very nice. They showed a video of the history of Carnival, then showed pictures of all the ships they've ever had in the fleet. You were supposed to clap when they showed a ship you've sailed on. I think my husband and I were the only ones that clapped for the Festivale. Pretty weird! They did not ask you what you wanted to drink, just passed out drinks that were already on their tray. The choices were red wine, white wine, Yellowbirds, Raspberry Sours, Melonballs and fruit punch for the kids and non-drinkers. The passed hors d'ouevres were salmon croquettes, bruschetta, some tuna thing on bread and a mushroom thing. They were just "ok". Not worth ruining your appetite over, in my opinion, especially if you were going right into dinner, like we were.
When you entered the lounge for the party, they collected your invitation and put it in a large glass bowl. During the party the captain pulled out one invitation and the winner received a dinner for two at Harry's Steakhouse. Against all odds, my mother's name was pulled and she was summoned up on stage with Butch and the Captain to collect her certificate and take pictures. The next day, a leather portfolio arrived in her cabin with the pictures that were taken. It was really pretty nice. She ended up giving the dining certificate to my husband and I, since we were celebrating our 25th anniversary which was incredibly nice of her.
Day 6—Grand Turk This was probably the island I was most disappointed in. There wasn't really anything wrong with it, it just didn't thrill me. I did love the fact that the ship docked so close to the beach though, it was only about a 2-3 minute walk to the shopping area which made it very convenient to go back on board for lunch instead of paying the high Margaritaville prices. The beach was pretty, but it was also fairly rocky and VERY crowded, despite us being the only ship in port. We also found the shopping to be very expensive, and very limited compared to other ports. If we ever go back, I will probably try Jack's Shack. I heard quite a few people talking about how much they liked it there.
This night was the other elegant night. We found that on the whole, the people dressed slightly less formally than the first elegant night. They still looked nice, but we also noticed that less people were taking the formal pictures too. I think people were just "pictured out" by this point.
Day 7-- Day at Sea.
Again, the chair hogs were out in full force, so we hauled our carcasses up to deck 10 and found some chairs there. It was another spectacular sunny day which we spent lounging around, eating, drinking and reading. All in all it was pretty uneventful but very relaxing..
Day 8. Buh-Bye...
Debarkation was the smoothest I have ever experienced. Butch made many, many announcements about not heading down to debark until your number was called. People STILL went down there and screwed things up. We were zone 7, and were off the ship by 8:15. We found our luggage right away and were out the door by 8:30. As long as you followed directions, things went smoothly.
Wait staff. Our head waiter was named William, and he was fantastic! He had only been on board 6 weeks, but he was a real pro. We learned that he had been a math teacher in his native country of the Philippines, and. he entertained us nightly with math tricks and stories about his family. We absolutely loved him! We had two assistant waiters too. One was Milan from Croatia, who had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor. He was also really good, but he did complain a little about the working conditions. He told us that he despised Half Moon Cay and that Grand Turk was worse than Hades. He was actually very funny, and we were not offended by his comments at all. He also told us of his travels around the world before he ended up with Carnival. We really enjoyed him. The other assistant was a girl named Panchu. She was very sweet, and very quiet, but she also did an awesome job. I think they were my favorite wait staff of any cruise I have been on.
The Entertainment. On the whole, we thought it was hit or miss. We went to whatever show was in the Venetian Lounge every night, and some were definitely better than others. We thought the production shows were ok, but I guess we are used to the theater here in Chicago, and there is really no comparison. We disliked the Frank Sinatra/Sammy Davis Jr tribute show because the guy who starred in it was way too in love with himself. It was also about 80% Sammy Davis and only 20% Sinatra for what it's worth. Phat Cat the comedian was funny, but the Village Idiot jugglers/comedians, not so much. They were talented jugglers, not so talented comedians, in my humble opinion.
Karaoke was very popular, and my brother in law regaled the ship with his warblings more than a few times. People actually recognized him in the elevator and asked him if he was going to sing again. He chose to take it as a compliment, the rest of us were not so sure if it was... One night they had karaoke on the Lido deck and broadcast it on the big screen TV. People seemed to love that. The piano bar was a little disappointing. The piano player had a bad attitude. He said he didn't have to watch what he said because he was leaving the ship anyway. He was also not that talented., and it was pretty smoky in there. Therefore, we did not spend as much time in there as we thought we would.
Big Screen TV on Lido. Not a huge variety of things to watch. They tended to repeat a lot of things. Julie and Julia, Avatar, the latest Harry Potter and a Sheryl Crow concert were all shown more than once. They also showed an old Die Hard movie. CNN was on most of the day. Nevertheless, we still saw lots of people taking advantage of it at night. Popcorn was $1.75 I believe.
The Food. On the whole, we thought it was really good.. Between the 9 of us, I think we tried just about everything on the menu. The one entrEe universally disliked was the Chateaubriand. It was tougher than leather and impossible to cut. The lobster was good, the shrimp was good and the prime rib was great. I finally tried the warm chocolate melting cake. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be like that, but it had a small (maybe ½ inch) of cake across the top of the ramekin, and the rest was totally liquid. I think I would have liked it more it it had been cooked a little more. However, the Grand Marnier soufflE, the Bitter and Blanc, the diet coconut cake, the apple pie and a few choice other desserts were outstanding! I also thought that most of the appetizers were excellent. Some days there were too many wonderful choices and way too hard to pick just one so I picked two appetizers and skipped dessert.
Ice Cream. This deserves a category by itself because I am ashamed to admit that my family ate more than their combined weight in ice cream. Some machines had chocolate and vanilla, and some had chocolate and strawberry. It seemed like every time I turned around one of my kids had an ice cream cone in their hand. For some reason I did not have a single ice cream cone the entire trip. Not sure what is up with that! We never saw anyone doing anything unsanitary to any of the machines as has been reported, but we did see people pile on ice cream two or three times the height of the cone. Also, the bowls that are available were often overflowing so I guess it was a hit with most people onboard.
Harry's Steakhouse. One word sums it up—incredible! We had no intention of spending the money, but since we got the free dinne from my mom's free certificater, we were happy to try it. Fist they gave us a "tasting" from the chef.. My husband got some kind of potato thing with roasted tomatoes and I got some kind of soup which was green, but was a million times better than a split pea soup. The bread was excellent too, and they served it with bruschetta, a chopped eggplant thing as well as butter. For my appetizer I ordered the crab cake which was excellent. My husband ordered the lobster bisque which was quite different (i.e MUCH BETTER) than the lobster bisque in the dining room. We both ordered the Caesar salad prepared tableside and the surf and turf. as our entrEe. The filet was done perfectly and so tender you could cut it with a fork. The lobster was NOT the same lobster as the main dining room, that's for sure. It was a large, tender tail with drawn butter. The service here was impeccable too. I can honestly see why they charge $30 per person, it is definitely worth it. The funniest part was when the waitress accidentally splashed my husband with salad dressing while making the salad, and was so horrified that she dropped a sugar bowl on the floor, it broke and spilled sugar everywhere. While trying to clean that up, she dropped the bread basket and the bread went everywhere. It was a comedy of errors, but honestly, she was an excellent server despite all that.
Fellow Passengers. Butch had announced that there were over 1000 kids on board, but you never would have known it. Camp Carnival did a great job of keeping them all occupied. We had NO instances of elevator buttons being pushed, no one running in the halls, no obnoxious drunks, no one blocking the stairs at all. In fact, we never even waited more than a minute or two for an elevator. I was beginning to think that this would be the most boring review ever with nothing bad to report. The worst things we saw were the pool chair hogs and the Venetian Lounge chair hogs. The funny thing is, we were able to walk in at the last minute and get a decent seat for every show. There was no need for anyone to arrive 90 minutes early to save a seat. Every seat in the Venetian Lounge has a good view so why waste your time?
We also ran into no one cutting in line or being rude in the buffet. We did see people piling up their trays like it was their last meal, but it didn't bother me at all. On the whole people were extremely nice and courteous. We actually met a lot of really nice people.
The Crew. Here too, my story is boring. We did not run into a single rude crew member. Everyone was smiling, courteous and eager to help. We never did meet our cabin steward, although we did see him in the halls a couple of times. He did a great job of keeping our cabin cleaned, so no complaints there. We did get chocolates and towel animals every night too, which I've seen reported as being non-existent.
The Disappointments. Very few. One was them was that they no longer sell the drink coupons. We were told by several people that the suspended them a year ago. Again, not a huge deal. Another somewhat annoying thing was the photographers constantly trying to take your picture. The last thing I want is a photographic proof of my pasty white swimsuit clad body with my hair matted to my head and no makeup on, and yet I was chased into the water at Half Moon Cay and Grand Turk by the ship's photographers. They were pretty persistent even when you said no thanks.. Also, the price of the pictures were pretty steep. A regular 8x10 was $19.95, but on formal night the 8x10's went up to $25 for some reason. Not really sure why there was a price increase.
Another slight disappointment was the constant pushing of drinks and bingo. I felt like we were being bombarded at all times. Bingo was pretty expensive. It was $10 a game, or 3 for $20. People were playing like crazy though, so it definitely had an audience.
Casino.The casino slots were TIGHT. I blew through $20 in less than 3 minutes every night. I didn't see or hear of a single person that won any substantial money. The tables were not any kinder, unfortunately.
The Mystery. Exactly what WAS behind the closed door of the library??? No matter what time of the day or night we checked, it was locked up tight. It was pretty strange.
The Shops. Very typical for a cruise ship. Jewelry, perfume, watches, t-shirts, Carnival logo items, the usual stuff. We bought very little, maybe a Liberty mug and that's it. Nothing in the $10 store even tempted us..
Art Auction. Kind of a joke. People were obviously there for the free champagne and not to buy. We say there for about 90 minutes and I think 3 or 4 paintings were actually bid on and sold.
I guess that's it. If you're still awake, thanks for hanging in there with me!