A little background first - this was my 5th Carnival cruise - 8th overall. I sailed on Liberty on the Western route out of Fort Lauderdale back in 2007 and was really excited about boarding her again. Travelling with me - my three daughters, 15, 13, and 9, my mother, and my sister.
We were at the port by 11am on our embarkaton day, went through security, had my mini bottles of wine (they really, seriously, only allow 1 bottle per adult now - no matter what the size - you used to be able to bring 4 mini bottles OR 1 large bottle) confiscated in the naughty room at security, and proceeded to the kiosk to scan in passports and make my cash deposit on my sail and sign card. It was a fairly simple process and we had our sail and sign cards in hand within about 20 minutes. We were group number 17 and probably were on board by noon.
One nice feature they have now is a shore excursion desk right in the check in area at the port. I was able to book my cabana right there, although I did have to go to the excursion desk on board in order to give them my drink preferences and fin sizes. It was a really nice surprise and took a lot of the stress away from boarding since my goal had been to get there a little earlier than we did to be sure we got a cabana booked.
On boarding the ship, we went straight up to the fish n chips - there were maybe three other people up there. The line wasn't open yet - they were still setting up, but it was quiet up there and we made that area our default meeting place for when we would eat on the Lido deck. There were always tables available, it was much quieter than on the lower level of Emile's and it was still convenient to get food from any of the lines. I wish we'd found the drink station the first day, but we were sitting on the port side of the deck and the drinks were a little hidden over on the starboard side.
We had 2 rooms - my Mom is mobility impaired, so she had a handicapped 4J on deck 10 - it was a great room - very spacious, slept 3, and the view was just fine. The only downside to her cabin was that occasionally the meatheads in the fitness center would drop their weights (even though signs request them not to) causing a loud CLUNK from above - but she said it never kept her awake nor did it wake her in the mornings. Our aft balcony room was perfect - and if it hadn't rained, I'm not sure I'd ever have left my balcony. It was a fabulous location and I L-O-V-E-D the balcony!
The kids didn't participate much in Camp Carnival - my oldest was really disappointed in the O2 activities that were listed - and we're in that spot where all 3 kids are in different clubs - and since they actually like being together (most of the time) they elected to hang out together and with me most of the time. The staff was friendly and the facilites are beautiful on this ship - and for the younger ages (14 and down) the activities looked to be fantastic - they even offer teen excursions.
As to dinner - our wait team - I-putu, assistant waiters, Enrique, and Endi were fantastic! Every time I cruise I think the waitstaff we have on our current cruise cannot possibly be surpassed, but I have to say, these guys were awesome. They were personable, gave us great service, and went out of their way to make sure all of the kids were at ease and that we all knew we could order anything (in multiples) we wanted from the menu and that we could request things that weren't on the menu as well (first time we'd been told that right up front). The bar waiter was also fantastic - I hate to admit that I can't remember his name, but he never forgot mine and was so cheerful and friendly all week, whether we ordered anything or not, that I almost felt guilty when I didn't order from him. We are seriously looking at booking our May cruise on Liberty just to see them again - yes, I checked, they'll all be there!
The food was of excellent quality - the steakhouse did not disappoint and we really did have great meals every night. Breakfast in the MDR was horribly slow the first time I ate there and only marginally better the next time. The food was good, but getting refills on coffee, water, or juice was hit or miss. The first time we went there, we were seated with 4 other people, served drinks, and then nothing for 20 minutes - I had to go to the maitre'd stand and ask for help before anyone came back to serve us or take orders. The lido deck had a wide variety of choices available - we really enjoyed the Fish-n-Chips and the burrito bar - usually we really enjoy the pizza, too, but on this trip we didn't even get back there.
Room steward - The room was neat and orderly, but this was the first of our 5 cruises with Carnival where the steward had not made it a point to introduce himself. He was difficult to locate when we needed something, too - and his service just wasn't the same as we'd had on other cruises. It's the first time I didn't tip over and above the auto gratuities for the room steward. Again, he didn't do a bad job and I didn't really have much to complain about - but it was the lack of being able to get ice when I wanted it, having to hunt down a steward from a different section to get a laundry bag for the laundry special, and waiting several days to get the mini bar in the room unlocked that had me not tipping extra - he provided the basic service and did it adequately - not enough to merit an extra tip this time. I don't think we actually saw him until day 3 (the sea day).
Half Moon Cay was beautiful, we loved St. Thomas and enjoyed San Juan - were disappointed not to make it to Grand Turk, but the captain did an excellent job keeping us informed and advised as to what was going on and why we weren't able to dock (they had closed the port). The seas were pretty rough for much of the cruise - aside from one NCL cruise, this was the roughest I've ever been on - they even closed the stairs and top decks one day - thankfully, nobody in my family is susceptible to seasickness.
We even tried taking fitness classes - in case you're wondering, the yoga class, which he had billed as a 'beginner's' class - is NOT a beginner's class at all. It wasn't the most advanced class I've ever taken, but it definitely took some stamina and flexibility. There was one poor guy in the class with all the women and he looked totally lost. There were a few there who were clearly yoga fanatics, a couple, like me, who had taken classes before but were a little rusty, and a few beginners - who looked very lost through much of the class. With the ship moving like crazy, it was really hard to hold some of the poses he ran us through. About 20 minutes in, I seriously considered rolling up my mat and going to have eggs Benedict in the dining room - but I pushed through and managed not to get the giggles while thinking about how silly we all were trying to do those poses while the ship bucked and tossed.
Overall, this was a fabulous cruise - we noticed a few changes - no decorated cookies for the kids on elegant night (or maybe that was our cabin steward) - the change to the farewell party instead of a Captain's reception with free drinks (they held it while we were all in Nassau) - I didn't see a high tea this time - so we missed some little things, but nothing that made me reconsider whether to cruise with Carnival again - in fact, I have 1 booked already for next year and am planning 2 more - the value for the money is still exceptional.
A lot of times, on the last day, I'm woken rudely by the ship docking - this time that didn't happen - and I doubt it woke anyone at all up - this captain was so smooth - or maybe it was the cabin location - but I never felt the shuddering, the side thrusters, or any change at all when we docked at any of the ports - and it was the same this day. I had to wake the girls up at 8 so we could go have breakfast before disembarking. We had given each of the waiters a photo of the three girls which they'd written notes on (on the back) along with their extra cash tips - and I swear one of them almost started crying - and we were lucky enough to see all three of them again at breakfast that morning (in different stations). the girls got to hug them goodbye again and we promised to try to book again so we could see them before I-Putu goes home in March (we're booking for February - I'm stalking the price right now!)
Disembarkation was smooth - no issue getting through customs, but getting the cab to the airport took a little longer than it should because they weren't paying attention to the size of the parties they were putting in the large cabs - until the large party just ahead of us pitched a fit about 2 people being put in an Excursion when there were no other large vehicles in sight - but I'm sure they were glad they'd had to wait a few minutes when they did get up the road aways - that Excursion was sitting in the middle of the road with a flat tire - and two unhappy looking passengers.