Pre-Cruise: Flew Delta, without issue, as usual. This was our first time flying in winter, thinking we wanted to cruise when it was snowy at home to get away. And probably our last time too. The added stress of travelling when weather conditions are iffy and the significantly lower water temps were kind of a turn-off.
I scored the Marriott Biscayne Bay for around $125 (less than half of internet advertised rate). I was a bit nervous because the website is comparatively new, but it worked out great. I had requested, on our reservation form, to have a higher room with a view of the cruise ships/harbor and they obliged. We were on the TOP (31st) floor in a corner room, it was awesome. My daughter even spied a manatee in the little harbor below the morning of our cruise, which will now and forever be referred to in our family as the "lucky manatee", lol.
Took a cab to South Beach/Lincoln Rd because we had a gift certificate for Pizza Rustica (near corner of Lincoln Rd. More
and Pennsylvania). Great family pizza joint. I was curious as to how much of South Beach nightlife we'd be strolling through with the kids, but it was fine.
Ship & Crew: Liberty was in great shape. Nothing noticeably in need of repair or replacement. We really enjoyed the big screen and my husband especially enjoyed catching some of the football playoffs under the stars in the Caribbean.
Crew was wonderful, very friendly and efficient. We had two cabins, and right on the border of stewards' territories. Our one steward, Yonel from Haiti, was awesome. Very friendly and one of the best stewards we've had to date. I couldn't tell you the other steward's name because he never introduced himself, which kind of bugs me, but he did his job adequately. Todd Wittmer was great as CD. Lots of energy and fun, but didn't feel the need to be on the PA 24/7 to hear himself talk.
Camp Carnival was enjoyable for the kids, yet again. The only differences I noticed were the portable cell phones rather than the pagers (which are handy because they work as portable courtesy phones and you can call cabins as well as receive incoming calls FROM cabins) and the late night "babysitting" had theme nights/parties rather than just having the kids in the rooms watching movies and coloring.
Food: This was maybe the only sticking point for us on the trip.
First, we tried "Your Time" dining this go round. Being the mom of 2 smaller kids, I wanted to experience dining after having more than 10 minutes to get myself showered, dressed and ready (after supervising the two kids' cleaning up and getting dressed) that the early seating provides for me (and the kids would never make it to late seating without starving or falling asleep in their food). The inconsistency in servers was massive with Your Time. We had ONE server all week that I would say was up to the standards I have experienced from Carnival. The other servers, whether it was the process or the individual servers themselves, were horrible. Two nights half of our table had to get up after over 2 hours of waiting, before we were even offered a dessert menu, because the kids wanted to get to an activity at camp. That, to me, is unacceptable.
The food quality was lacking, other than a new fish entrEe that was offered and was the best thing I ate in the dining room all week, nothing I ate was that memorable. Between that, the lack of variety in the menus (I don't know how those of you who cruise several times a year can cope with the monotony of the offerings) we've decided to cut down the nights we even eat in the MDR next cruise. We figure on two nights in the steakhouse, embarkation night and Captain's Dinner night in the MDR and just hitting the Lido the remaining nights.
Harry's Steak House didn't disappoint. Superb food, service and atmosphere. Well worth the price.
Mongolian Stir Fry station and Burrito Bar in the buffet area are both tasty and worth the wait.
Coffee shop beverages and goodies are also well worth the price.
Half Moon Cay: Gorgeous and I can see what everyone raves about. The water temps this time of year were pretty chilly first thing in the morning but warmed up SLIGHTLY by mid-day. "Captain On The Rocks", the new pirate ship bar that has been under construction, we were the first ship able to utilize it. It was rather unimpressive to me; it looked like a barn with holes in it built over a bar, with a stage in one end and bathrooms in the other. I can imagine it was pretty pricey and rather unnecessary in my humble opinion, lol. And for those who were considering renting cabanas near it and concerned about the noise level, you have reason to be concerned. Once the DJ and social host arrived mid-morning, it was like Spring Break going on in there and everyone halfway down the beach in either direction could hear exactly what was going on in there...between the booty shaking contest to the hairy chest contest. Just an FYI, lol. It didn't necessarily bother us, but we weren't paying a few hundred bucks and expecting peace and quiet, as some who rent the cabanas may be. Tendering back we ran into an issue, though I'm not sure why. There were 3-4 tenders running when people were coming ashore. But when we lined up to wait to get back, thankfully not last minute, we stood and waited a good 45 minutes-an hour for a tender to return. That kind of stunk, but we survived. Perfect beach day.
St. Thomas: We'd been here once on our first cruise and enjoyed it. Enjoyed it even more this time. As a large group (25) we booked Sunny Liston's private tour and requested he be our guide (rather than one of his employees) as I'd heard such good things about him. He did NOT disappoint. His style and personality turned what could be just a standard tour LITERALLY into a moving party. Ever the gracious host, he was also really funny and had some fun island music and great information about the island itself. Every single one in our party had a blast and it was one of the highlights of our entire cruise. I can't recommend him highly enough. We went shopping for two hours after he picked us up from the ship (like 10 feet from the gangway, literally, lol). Got some good bargains on jewelry at Ballerina Jewelers and picked up some chocolate at the Belgian Chocolate Factory (pricey but oh-so-worth-it, lol). Poked around the open air market briefly and met Sunny near the square. Set off for our short island tour, with a few photo ops. Then on to Coki Beach. Coki was enjoyable in a "non-commercial" way. Not crowded at all, mainly locals. I'd read somewhere on here about how someone said the locals were "lurking in the trees" surrounding the beach...which was completely false. They were just the guys who fetched the beach chairs and worked in several capacities on the beach, and they were sitting in the shade when they weren't needed. Just an FYI on that one. The food here is a major rip off, though, it was highly over priced and when we eventually GOT our food (no lie, almost an HOUR after ordering it) not only was it ice cold, but she forgot our drinks and the food didn't come with what was listed on the menu (supposed to be a platter with rice and peas, fried plantains, fries and the menu item...just came with a handful of cold fries). Snorkeling was pretty decent, especially over near the coral/rock formations surrounding Coral World. And here's a word to the wise...do NOT use the porta-potties there...pay the $1 to use the Coral World bathrooms at the end of the beach.
San Juan: The plan was just to hop on one of the free trolleys and explore one of the forts and Old San Juan. I had read on here to head left of the cruise terminal and up a block to hit trolley stop #1 (otherwise if you hit the one closest to the cruise terminal, they're always full). And that tip worked out great. Hopped on and took a 20 minute ride to El Morro and it was awesome. The kids loved being able to stretch their legs and explore and the historical significance was impressive, along with awesome photo ops. We spent a good hour there, and then hopped back on the trolley as it was dropping people off right at the front door of El Morro. Another tip: hop on right at the fort, because if you walk down the large path back to the street, the trolleys are full by the time they reach that point with everyone who hops on right at the fort itself.
Old San Juan wasn't anything spectacular for us. The sidewalks are maybe 2 feet wide and it makes even passing shoulder to shoulder two people across fairly difficult. We did, however, find the Parrot Club (on Calle Fortaleza) thanks to a friend for the recommendation. The drinks were tasty, as well as the food. I wanted to try mofongo, being somewhat of a foodie and hearing about it. It kind of just tasted like greasy fried potatoes, lol, but the BBQ chicken it came with was tasty. My husband however enjoyed the nachos made with fried plantain chips and stewed beef. Kids had some cheese quesadillas and it was just fun to experience the different cuisine. The cruise terminal is FILLED with guides trying to recruit people to hop on their tours...my biggest piece of advice would be to keep walking until you hear a price you want. The guys nearest the terminal wanted $30 per person for their tour, but as you walked further through the terminal and out near the street, the price was $10.
Grand Turk: was a fun port. We'd just planned another beach day, as there really isn't a whole lot to see on island. Made the mistake of spending the majority of the day on the beach at Margaritaville, although the snorkeling was decent in certain spots here. I had planned on stopping at Jack's Shack, based on recommendations I'd read here on Cruise Critic, but I wish I had just headed straight there. Chairs were $5 a piece, but the beach wasn't rocky like trying to walk into the water neat Margaritaville was. The drinks were AWESOME and not as pricey as Margaritaville and the food was reasonable and REALLY good (I recommend the jerk chicken, but don't order the fries because their fryer is TINY and it takes FOREVER) and worth the short wait. Jack and Janet, the proprietors, were super friendly. And Topher, their digging dog, gave us a fun demonstration of his skills I got on video, lol. The kids got a kick out of that. The skies turned a bit cloudy, but we weren't worried, so my sister and I swam out a decent distance from the beach...and then the skies OPENED UP and we had to book it back to shore swimming in the rain. It was kind of funny and definitely a once in a lifetime experience, lol. Hit the gift shop at Margaritaville on the way back and picked up a conch shell someone had abandoned on the beach when they ran for cover (saved us the time and effort of hunting one up, lol). It was fun, I'd go back.
Miscellaneous: I can't comment on any of the shows, as this cruise we tried to avoid being on a schedule or rushing around to be anywhere at any certain time. I really enjoyed meeting all of my Cruise Critic peeps from our roll call, especially Red Helix (Amin) and his gorgeous family. I hope we can cruise together again soon! We had great weather throughout the cruise, except the last sea day was a bit cold as we moved further north and a bit rainy at times. I honestly didn't mind it though, as it gave me time to tie up our "loose ends", get a jump on packing, get our pictures picked up, take some pictures, etc. I did purchase two future cruise certificates (as we had two cabins) and am planning on how and when to use them as we speak to ease my PCD. ;)