This was our 14th or so cruise, the fifth on Carnival and the second on Liberty. We much prefer Princess, but a sub-$400 price on Liberty convinced us to go Carnival again.
Plenty of reviews describe the experience, so I'll focus just on the major positives/negatives from the experienced cruiser point of view.
We waited nearly an hour to get on board at 1:45 in the afternoon. The card making machine had broken down and Carnival apparently had no backup plan. It was a long, uncomfortable wait standing in line, meaning we also missed lunch since the lifeboat drill was at 3:00. Not a very pleasant beginning.
The low price means the clientele is a decidedly mixed bag. Many have called it a Walmart crowd and it pretty much was (we shop at Walmart, but don't necessarily identify with the core demographic). This was the first cruise in which I've seen blue jean shorts and ball caps in the dining room on what used to be called formal night (now More
called "elegant night" by Carnival with only the barest minimum of dress suggested, like no flip flops -- but we saw those too Carnival has completely surrendered when it comes to setting and enforcing any kind of dress code. Men wearing nothing but swimming trunks in the buffet at lunch, women running around all over the ship wearing bathrobes. Lots of crying babies, smokers, rude people (jumping the endless buffet lines, crowding into the elevators before letting anyone get off), unsupervised children, and massive food wastage (they had to start serving the bacon at breakfast since people were putting literally dozens of slices on their plates.) There were certainly some pleasant folks aboard, but lots of first timers who weren't interested in changing their behaviors just because the setting suggested they should.
Pretty much the same breakfast buffet items each day. Boring pastries like danish and nut bread instead of doughnuts or fruit tarts. Dining room lunch WAS the exact same menu each day, with just entrees and desserts (no appetizers, soups, etc.) and open seating besides at lunch (share a table with strangers). The buffet at Emiles was generally cheap filler food, like tomato sauced pasta and disguised leftovers, with an occasional edible item (we ate at the burrito bar every day for lunch because it was at least fresh and interesting). I would honestly rate Liberty's buffet below that of our local Golden Corral.
Carnival is obviously trying to limit food costs. The buffet was closed from 9:30 until 11:00 or 11:30 each night, right about the time we wanted to drop by for a cookie or dessert. It closed again after midnight. It seemed odd to have no food available on the Lido deck during prime hours -- the only food available was room service or pizza. Room service was OK, but it was mostly just cold foods like sandwiches and it took 45-60 minutes for delivery if you ordered when everything else was shut down.
No flowers on the dining room tables, no "crumbing" of the tablecloth before desserts. The assistant waiter Dragan was awful - he'd bring you a dessert and no silverware, then pick up someone else's unused fork from the other side of the table and set it in front of you to avoid walking back to get a fresh one.
We didn't go to the welcome aboard "party", but according to the newsletter description, there were no free drinks -- just $1 off the regular prices.
We never saw anyone offering wine or bar drinks in the Your Time dining room except for the first night. Seems like a wasted chance to generate extra profits.
Minimal use of the outdoor movie screen for actual movies. There was always something running, but usually not movies (like they didn't want to pay screening fees or something). Unlike Princess, there were no blankets for the movie area at night.
A minimal library, just a few hundred books. We couldn't figure out why it was never open and with no posted hours, then realized that the door was simply stuck and hard to open. It's apparently open all the time and on the honor system. The books I got were new, so that was a plus.
The drink of the day prices are up to $7.50 plus gratuity. Soda cards are almost $50, which was the first time I thought the price was so ridiculous that I wouldn't buy one (at $2.24 including gratuity per can, you'd need to drink three a day to break even).
They didn't offer comment cards at all, which is the first time I've seen that on a cruise. Maybe Carnival didn't want to know what we thought.
Amazingly plush bath robes and beach towels.
Excellent cabin stewards. They even hung up our wet clothes from the pool before we could get to them. Maybe the best and friendliest we've had on any cruise.
Outstanding waiters even in our Your Time dining -- they took the time to learn and use our names right way (thanks, Francis and Andrian).
Entertainment was generally good, although I wasn't a fan of the cruise director or the staff, most of which seemed to be young Canadians without any obvious talents for the job.
Harry's (the steak house) was outstanding and worth the $30 per person surcharge. Excellent escargot, soups, side dishes, etc. in addition to the steaks and seafood. I would suggest eating there the last night of the cruise since the dining room food and service pales in comparison.
Excellent dinners. The food was reasonably creative, the breads were pretty good (although the same every night), and the desserts were OK. Standouts were the Indian platter, the fish items on the spa menu, and the rack of lamb.
The burrito bar at lunch was really, really good. Pizza was OK.
Very slick debarkation process - we were standing at our gate in the Miami airport by 8 a.m. for our early flight.
The fitness center is amazing and spa services were very well priced during a couple of "sales" midweek.
I guess my overall summary is that there was absolutely nothing special, upscale, or memorable about this cruise compared to the others we've taken, including on Liberty itself. Like a trip to Walmart or a Las Vegas bus trip to hit the buffets and slots, it met a need inexpensively for a primarily first-timer crowd, but the cost cutting was painfully obvious. We still had a good time and it was definitely a cheap vacation.
I don't think I'd do it again - unless Princess has changed equally dramatically for the worse in the six months since we cruised on it, it is much more to our taste than Carnival and I'd pay the extra to go with them. My biggest fear is that Carnival will do to Princess what it did to its own brand since they own Princess as well. Less